Sunday, March 13, 2016

Brain-science and Natural History

Brain-science and 
Natural History
Dennis Nord

My personal quest for bio-science understanding started in earnest related to my family history with
stroke. New research available on brain-science offered promising knowledge I wanted to learn. At the same time I have been acquiring skills and knowledge in natural history and sharing that with others. As I pursued my interest in brain science I was convinced being outdoors and following my passion for all things natural history relates very well to promoting brain health. That’s what this essay is about.

I learned about new techniques for treating strokes that have positive effects months and even years after the brain attack. There are technologies for helping people overcome speech, motor movement control and balance problems from stroke, as well as MS and other debilitating neuro-diseases. Pain control methods are reaching into cognitive functioning for control. I found developing therapies ranging from learning disorders, Parkinson’s disease, chronic migraines, brain trauma and autism to name a few. Cognitive function and memory are amenable to training and stimulation in ways few people even guessed a couple decades ago. I found brain science is promising to people of all ages who have a brain and want to keep using it into their old age.

At the basic research level, brain-science has discovered and explored plasticity in brains of every living organism (with a brain) regardless of age. Researchers found cancer patients were forming new brain cells the day they died, and these were seriously diseased brains! Brains learn to transfer control to undamaged areas after serious injuries. Globally damaged brains learn to re-organize and control massive confusion after brain trauma from explosions, brain disease, stroke and even significant removal of brain tissue due to accident or surgery. 

The effects of aging on human brains has a tragic effect on far too many seniors. It’s an old story I first glimpsed in developmental psychology class fifty years ago. It hasn’t gotten prettier for those who do the same things people did fifty years ago as they aged: More sitting with less exercise, less social stimulation, and little new learning as they grew older. The human brain starts life with little organization and understanding and over the years, the brain slides back into that same noisy situation unable to control the brain, differentiate the world and loses control of body machinery to reach a level close to infants. Fortunately most people expire before such an extreme. We all know of glowing exceptions where the ancient among us live full and glowing lives.

Brain-science has studied the problem of the aging brain in addition to the impact of disease and trauma and has discovered what it takes to slow, stop or even reverse the aging process. Even more fortunately, I found many of the outdoor natural history activities fit the recommendations for keeping your brain in top condition or restoring it if it has been injured. Here’s the short list:
  • Learn something new. Most of us avoided learning anything new since we went to school, or when we started our first couple of jobs. After that we relied on the same skills and extended our knowledge incrementally trying to keep from doing anything requiring too much effort or pain in learning. 
  • With Natural history, unless ecological biology, geology, botany, ornithology etc. were part of your career, you step up to learning a new knowledge base and skills. If you want incentive for increasing your knowledge of local birds, here it is. If the phenological cycle of local plants interests you, start your own study in your backyard. If phenology is a new concept, research it and then dive in.
  • The more difficult it might seem, the more you benefit from learning. If Latin wasn’t part of your formative years, learning Latin names could refresh brain cells that haven’t fired in awhile. Rousting those brain cells for new learning makes all learning easier and creates a better functioning brain.

2. Make your brain focus on more things. Older eyes tend to scan less and less of what’s in front of our faces. As we age we slow that process and every other cognitive function. Being outside stimulates your brain to focus on a wider range of subjects with greater depth of field. Getting off the highway with continuous life and death decisions means you can change from drilling your focus on oncoming traffic and the undulations of the road to looking at what is happening around you.
  • Take birding as an example: It requires scanning with rapid eye movement everywhere to see where there might be birds. In addition, birders get interested in identification. How does that work with vision? It means learning to match shape, color, behavior, and size with the possible target. Trying to predict where a bird might be involves imagination, prediction and planning. 
  • Birds move with great rapidity and through a distracting environment creating fleeting glimpses. This is great motivation for teasing the brain to push faster and pull together phenomenally small bits of data to create a pattern out of data that has small resolution. Great work when you can get it!
  • Can you find the bird with your binoculars and get your camera on it with your other hand and then focus and change settings for lighting and depth of field? Can you catch it flit out of range as you move your technology into place? Can you look up the bird in the smart phone app while watching it? Predict where it might show up next through the brush? All these very sophisticated skills of tracking, predicting, using eye-hand coordination are well worth practicing to stretch your brain cognition.
  • Birds make calls and noises that aid your ability to find and identify species. Memory for songs matching specific birds is another challenge to aid in practicing crucial new skills.

3. So that brings us to speed. We….slow…down. We slow eye movements and limit the range we scan. Television is great training for the slowing process. We speak slower and even hear slower and take longer identifying visual targets unless we practice things that are faster. If you listen to children you’ll find their speech is rapid and sometimes a blur. Trying to hear them is highly motivating experience so you can catch their nature story and be ready to stimulate the next step or take their question and push it along the path of discovery. The more quickly the human brain works the better the connections for making meaning of life and all the sources of information we encounter. Otherwise our own slowing brain becomes a noisy environment competing with external stimulation. We need practice to keep up. 
  • That flitting bird, that skimming dragonfly, the chance encounter with a gopher above ground or a flirt of yellowish light that might have been a mountain lion are stimulation we can use to stay sharp and take life to the fullest. Being right doesn’t matter, being ready and catching enough to wonder does! Sharing that with each other and students and adults is the passion of natural history students and docents regardless of age.
  • Hearing fits here as well. Is that sound a squirrel or is it a bird? Would that be a robin or am I hearing a scrub jay? Can I differentiate that bird sound from the traffic noise in my neighborhood? 
  • What does it remind you of? That memory trace needs a massage and a kick in the starter once in a while to make sense of the world. The more memories you have the more opportunities for developing unique patterns, push them to the limit!

4. Skills for the brain have been broken into a series to help design skill building based on research by Michael Merzenich and others:

  • Attention which has to do with tracking, avoiding being distracted, and parsing out target from background. 
  • Brain Speed involves rapidly engaging your brain in visual sweeps of the environment, listening to a range of sounds for specific matches and being able to select a pattern rapidly from fast moving targets. Faster is important to brain function, while “taking it easy” is the old key to retirement but it is crediting with developing overwhelming brain noise. More green time, less screen time for adults!
  • Memory loss is the senior-adult fear of our age. The key to developing resilience to memory requires cleaning up the information flow to your brain, not practicing remembering! Differentiating among tasks, being able to hear and see with acuity and being able to organize incoming data so it’s possible to recall are the skills required for memory optimization.
  • People Skills and recognition help connect our social fabric and perform well handling social situations. Working with people making decisions together and listening carefully for instructions and for questions improves this skill. In learning and teaching natural history, we make multiple decisions in this realm while challenging ourselves and any audience and delivering relevant information on a level fit to age and experience.
  • Intelligence means cognitive functioning that connects patterns with memory and interpretation of clues and solving problems or mysteries. Certainly the process of understanding the complexity of nature is the very essence of what is needed for posing the best questions, implementing naturalists’ observations in a scientific manner.
  • Navigation and way-finding are essential and prone to confusion. What better place to keep in practice than on the trail? We locate and hike an area. We share directions and find things we want to share and navigate our way back or recall for later use. 

While it is true that repetitive practice, like crossword puzzles, could increase your specific ability with these simple pleasures, they have not been found to  help with other learning or memory tasks. Activities that improve the speed of your brain or learning new content and skills are effective with other cognitive tasks, because of their novelty, forcing your brain to fire in new ways and maintaining the data input stream from your senses to the cognitive machinery and memory banks. 

Another factor in jolting your aging brain back into the high-speed lane is to look for meaning in learning. Merzenich, says “…adult plasticity – which actually begins in early childhood -- only occurs when the brain is excited in particular, specific behavioral contexts. Rather marvelously, the older brain only permits change when it judges that change to be important, rewarding or good for it.” So being involved with subjects related to your passions exactly fit the criteria of being important, rewarding and worth learning. Tune into nature and develop your skills and knowledge and even better, share your learning with others. You tune up your brain and most likely, exercise your limbs, heart and lungs.

I also ran across a surprising finding about how we walk. In America we tend to smooth everything out to make it safer and easier to get about. Good idea, right? Probably, but only to a point. Researchers found when people regularly encounter uneven cobbles or trails, their balance improves. Later in life they are better able to avoid falling. If your brain doesn’t practice looking for and adjusting to uneven terrain, you lose the ability to constantly practice the balance between foot bottom, body position and visual input. To compensate for failing balance, one might start looking at the walking surface. That interferes with walking erect with eyes looking to the distance and has the counterproductive effect of disturbing your balance. This is another argument for getting off the sidewalk and out on the trail! Over and over, findings in neuro-science suggest we need to go back to natural environments to make our equipment; our brains and bodies, work better. 

On a search through the literature, aerobic exercise came up repeatedly as the best self-controlled method for keeping cognitive functions in top condition. There is no drug, chemical or supplement that can compare. Climbing a hill to search for mushrooms but one way to keep balance and heart in shape. Taking kids for a hike in the woods is a motivating and moving experience with positive outcome for brain and body.

Barry Lopez suggested decades ago, it shouldn’t be a surprise we crave natural environment as our personalities were forged in the wild.  E. O. Wilson coined the word biophilia: a natural attraction to nature. We benefit from experience with wild environments. When researchers found recovery much faster for patients with a view of nature, it was not such a surprising outcome. We simply function better with nature in our lives.

Learning to learn like a child in the wilderness again will wake up your brain and preserve your memory. Connect with the earth, go out to find and learn new things, enjoy your encounter and love it enough to make a place for it in your brain and your heart. Finally, share it with another kid so you lock it in tight where you can find it to use again and again. The idea that the brain is like a muscle that grows with exercise is not just a metaphor, its a fact of life well focused on nature.

Friday, August 15, 2014

High Sierra Summer

 No one ever spent too much time in the High Sierra in the summer. Certainly I have not. It's deja vu all over again with wildflowers  announcing spring in mid-July. This patch of paint brush--and yes it's a different pink than most I've seen--with sage brush and pines is ready for an afternoon thunder shower to liven up the sky and tantalize the olfactory nerves with that impossible to replicate smell of the wild.

Most afternoons provided a respite from the trail or paddling while we retreated to shelter while watching the light show from inside. Meanwhile we sharpened our domino skills supplemented with mocha and popcorn. In our narrow canyon, weather dropped in with little fanfare and drifted off in the same attitude, unhurried and a little ruffled by the passage over the high scrapes above.

Gnats, but not mosquitos, are dancing fairies without the buzz and blood. I suppose fairies should retain anonymity. My inability to gain real focus on them insures it.

That's Rock Creek Lake behind that nip of Aspen providing the stage. You might notice a few galls on the Aspen leaves.

A little red from penstemon balances the glorious green foliage. Coming from our super dry neighborhood, anything green is delicious to the eye.

Nature bouquets seem better for the outdoor setting and the chance composition of buddies with rocks.  

More paintbrush in knee-high clusters along the trail to the upper lakes beyond the road on Rock Creek. This makes up for missing the peak of the iris bloom. I always want them all to bloom at once. What a wreck that would be! Pollinators would buzz out of control in a madcap week, perhaps blowing up with nectar.

Wild onions on their long stalks appear as botanical exclamation marks upside down with magenta tops.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sierra Natural History Holiday

I upset this mother Douglas Squirrel and she unleashed a vocabulary of wrath upon me.

"You probably don't know how lucky you are!" I heard from Semper Fi guy with Marine cap and banner flying. 

I didn't think he meant the squirrel, so I came to attention and turned my head to meet the human neighbor. 

"Tried getting a spot here for nine years straight and this is the first time I managed."

He watched as I backed the truck with camper into the one open site, exactly to our liking with full view of the meadow. I'm often a little anxious the first night without reservations, but haven't failed in years to find a spot, no, a good site! This campground had 11 sites with the music of the creek and tall trees bordering a green meadow. Nice change from dry San Marcos Pass. My new Marine buddy walked away shaking his head.

Swish, swish, the fly rod and lines sailed through the dappled sun over the creek. Trout sprinted from rock to broken tree trunk avoiding all the hooks overhead.
"I've never seen so many fishing," said Carole. 

Hauling chairs, coolers and multiple rods, people made their way to water's edge on creeks, rivers and pools everywhere we looked. The fishing industry is where to put your investment dollar! The sun glistened off new reels while fancy vests sprouted ties and gear in high variety. The game was on!

I kept to the dry side, hunting birds, bugs, and plants while taking in the view. The house wren presented a twofer with a bug in beak. I followed the evasive flight through the trees till I got dizzy. The meal went uneaten and I guessed I was impeding an urgent delivery! I stepped back and watched where the order belonged. The nest behind the bark of the dead tree so carefully camouflaged, was clearly the target.

At the bottom left of the bark photo a few twigs poke out where the small house is hidden.

The chiding call was close and not lost on me and I retreated before losing an earlobe. Moms of the woods were intent on keeping bigfoot at bay.

The columbine in the meadow bounced minutely from the troupe of clowns and acrobats performing a three petal circus complete with tight rope. I keep learning  to dig a little deeper to find more interest in what's happening outside. The spider circled to make it's entrance, a deadly finale to the first act.

On a larger, vegetarian stage, the still dainty blue seeks out nectar from the wild onion. From the insect-arachnid world, I heard no warning voices nor was I swatting biters neither by the stream or in the meadow. I'm happy to donate blood, but better at the silver mobile lab than out among the trees.

My camera lens danced through the shadows following the stellars jay. So close, but that dark plumage absorbed all the light so shot after shot failed to find a face. I don't spare the electrons when I shoot digital, and this photo would never have emerged with my film Canon.

Humboldt lilies at home this year seemed small due to drought, but they are still double the size of the tiger lilies I saw in the Sierra. What they lack in size they redouble in saturation with those stunning colors!

The first days at altitude, I walked slowly and breathed hard. Sleep came with bonus wake ups and puzzling dreams at Big Meadow on Rock Creek in the Eastern Sierra.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Trip to Santa Cruz with Pilgrimage to Mavericks Surf Site

Summer means a trip to the beach, but we live in sight of the beach so we went to Santa Cruz, to the beach. On the way we stopped to see the pugilists of the Pacific, the elephant seal males. This guy was taking a moment off from sparing to molt and soak up the heat of the sand, his own idea of summer fun.

The beach bathers near Cambria are here to shed their fur coat before hauling back off to sea for another swim of a few thousand miles before they return. Before motors there was long distance by muscle and it's still going on.

Our grandson, Sam enjoyed the rides on the boardwalk while I shot candid photos of the people and Carole watched Sam. 

Here, Sam tried his prowess as a pitcher against a timer. He was faster than the middle aged male before him. Sam says the timer was slow based on the radar gun he pitched against earlier. 

Our golf game improved on this two story indoor miniature golf course with pirate theme. My favorite special effect was the canons that go off at the end. After losing to Sam at bowling a few days earlier, I redeemed my competitive edge.

The waves at Mavericks are legendary, in the winter. This is from the beach and the 50 to 70 foot waves break much further out in the prime season. Sam met Jim Clark, the guy who got it all going. He owns the van and the surf shop. Great for the pilgrim looking for the wave (site).

The concrete wave provides a dry alternative in the barrel.

The Winchester House needs to return to the ever-building past as the silence is deafening and such an irritation to the spirits that informed Mrs. Winchester she could never stop with the home improvement.
 Always time for a summer beauty, a common buckeye!

Leaving the Winchester House I tried to avoid a police tie-up I could see an intersection ahead. So being smart I turned left and came head on with a chase scene and the guy being chased right in front of me. He turned left, the cop followed into a dead end street. He sped back out of the dead end and the cop stayed at the end of the street???? No shots were heard. More cop cars sped around corners real fast and they all beat out of the neighborhood going south, I think. Later we compared notes, it was  a middle aged white guy with black hair, or Latino guy with tatoos, or an old white guy with white hair. We all agreed it was a red Jeep that was sun faded. We made up stories about what the driver did to result in the chase. Since I'm writing I'll share mine. He held up a jewelry shop to get diamonds for his girlfriend and the silent alarm went off...  We felt safe enough as voyeurs that  this was fun. Could have been scary instead of fun had it gone just a little different. Film at 11.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Santa Rosa Island

Sedgwick Reserve sent docents to Santa Rosa Island on a day trip. The double-hulled Island Adventure took us by way of the south side of Santa Cruz Island where we avoided the higher seas to the north. I watched the dolphins surfing the bow wave and making rainbow arcs at the stern. As we passed the East End of Santa Cruz we watched Anacapa Island fade into the distance. Island Packers took us from the continent to cross the channel to one of the most seen and least visited national parks. Nearly everyone who visits Ventura or Santa Barbara Counties’ coast has seen the islands, often without knowledge about the park and marine sanctuary status.

Reading left to right, Santa Rosa is the third island I see from my deck above Santa Barbara. At home I’ve tried, wistfully, to make each island the top of the curled hump in the back of a sea monster that has Anacapa as its head. In the summer Santa Rosa with the others are often obscured by fog, like this morning. Last night Mount Diablo (or Devil's Peak) on Santa Cruz stood along a short and dark blue ridge above the flat white fog-sea stretching above the Pacific. Even though the islands look close at hand from our coast, they are exotic as we sail along their volcanic, metamorphic and sandstone cliffs and short beaches. The glowing electronic chart plots our way along the named landmarks as Captain Dave calls out geological features on the audio system. Few structures are evident and the occasional dirt roads disappear rapidly into the hills. Birds and pinnipeds are the evident wildlife visible from the boat. Guillemots, many gulls and the recovered from endangered status, brown pelican fly the coast. We failed in spotting whales that frequent the waters, but saw sea lions, common dolphins and a few seals in our day trip.

Long before the national park, some of the earliest people to North America lived here. At least the remains at Santa Rosa are older than almost any place else. The most recent estimates indicate an overlap between those people and the island pygmy mammoths of almost 1000 years. I found it interesting to consider sharing an island with pygmy mammoths and struggled to make sense of the interaction between man and beast. The mammoths, grew smaller, to seven feet tall and almost 2000 pounds, larger than a modern moose, full of protein and potential danger. (

I chose the botany tour with Sarah, the park ranger from the park. Hiking out through Cherry Canyon, we were fortunate to see several blooming species despite the current drought. Island
Buckwheat punctuated the hillsides in red drifts and red notes against the sandstone clefts, though treble or bass it was hard to tell. The Island paintbrush bloomed creamy yellow, along with bright yellow from the pea family and blue bush lupine and red again from Indian pinks and red monkey flower.
Greens brightened noticeably in the riparian zone with the creek side willows and cottonwoods.

Paul Collins spotted a black beaked magpie, which I missed, but many of us saw the two Channel Islands Flycatchers late in the day. Island
adaptation is as interesting on the Channel Islands as the Galapagos. I once heard a Ranger say, “If it was bigger than a bread box it could become smaller and if smaller already it's more likely to become bigger.” Deer mice are bigger,
mammoths got smaller and jays got larger. One has to consider the differences in competition and the available resources over time and through climate changes to begin explaining how this happened. I wondered about the survival of the gopher snake in a country with no gophers and assumed other rodents must fit the bill.

Home to the ranchers, the white clapboard house under the windswept Monterey Cyprus stands out on the flat plane above the pier. Sam Spaulding confirmed how quiet he found the island while he worked here for the former ranch owners before Santa Rosa became a national park.
Probably the wind and wave sounds were little different 13,000 years ago when the first resident chased the pygmy mammoth and shelled the mussels and the clams.

After a time too short for exploration, we headed back along the north coast of Santa Cruz where the captain guided the Island Adventurer deep into the Painted Cave to enjoy the geologic formations and colors close up from the water. The soporific waves and thrumming diesel seemed to liquefy Anacapa as it faded into our backwash off the stern and I’m wondering how the grilled mammoth tasted.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bears, Bugs and Field Trips

Bears, Bugs  and Field Trips

Having my hair combed in my sleep was strange, but finding a bear my cosmetician caused me to shout, “Hey!” with enough authority to shy that bear to the nearest tree. My flashlight caught it in an intimate bear-hugging tree embrace. Because bears scare the hell out of me, you’d think I’d stick to the couch, or maybe the desert, not so far. The hair grooming bear left me in peace to complete my night’s sleep on the forest floor and a morning of contemplating what might have been with an economy sized grizzly rather than the small black bear of the Santa Barbara backcountry.

That heighted sense of wilderness isn’t present where large predators have been extirpated. Grizzly bears lived near my home 100 years ago.
Recently I learned Father Junipero Serra abandoned his plan for a Montecito mission as his bishop said there were too many grizzlies. He sited Santa Barbara Mission on its present hill where the brown bear population was lower. Even so, Franciscans were in the bear’s debt for keeping trails of the first Camino Real open between missions. Wide grizzly bodies edging through thorny chaparral provided space for Franciscan priests traveling up and down the coast. Without the bears, priests might have been required to hack their way through the wilderness. That they tolerated close grizzly encounters indicates free trail maintenance made up for the threat.

Being in the food chain without being at the top is a good and humbling experience. It requires more care in our surroundings. I have that experience with rattlesnakes as I can't hear them. Most of time, my reasonable fears are other people; people driving vehicles they can't handle or drive responsibly. Nature and wilderness usually feels safer than driving on the freeway or walking urban streets. A bear or even bear track within sight will focus my attention like nothing else.

Is that a mother bear with cubs hiding somewhere? How far is the bear? Which way is the wind blowing? Can the bear smell me and is it aware I'm here? Is it engaged in something it will continue doing or is it going to take interest in me?

All these questions come to mind when I see a bear, outside a zoo, when I'm not in a vehicle. When a bear ambles into view, I have no remote for changing the channel. I have to deal with the situation here and now.

When leading children for natural history field trips I love to see their reaction to new things they experience. A bug they've never seen before is arresting.

Will it bite? Will it sting?  And then they move to: Does it fly? What does it eat? Are there more? What's it doing?

One little bug can totally derail whatever we were doing and I love it. It might not be a grizzly bear but it brings the focus to here and now. Moving on six legs and sometimes oblivious to everything else, an insect is a pure delight. Cobalt beetles this week were good for a few full
minutes with second graders. That’s eternity in their attention span. Cobalts are a pretty safe bet as a way to focus children’s experience of the outdoors. If I could introduce them to bears as safely it would be even more valuable. I know the boy who kept asking if we would see a bear felt that way.

“No bears. Where do you think they are?” he asked at the end of his trip with a downturned lip.

He wanted to hunt the bear. I told him the reserve has bears and people do see them, but usually not during the day. Everything else paled by comparison. A bear at the zoo is interesting, but the fence, the mote or the cage that separates viewers from animals makes it an extremely different experience from being outdoors where engagement is profoundly heightened. New hairdo anyone?

I share nature with many people on field trips and outings. I want to influence their attitude, positively towards nature and especially wilderness. It’s effective to engage them, whether they're little or big, with firsthand experience. Doing that without judgment is the best I can do. Asking them to reflect on what they experienced and how it relates to nature and wilderness has great promise. If I can hold off describing, and focus engagement, they will understand more in a context that is free and open. Then I am doing a better job.

What excites me about natural history and wilderness are the mysteries.

Where do birds migrate to? How often has the mountain lion stalked me when I didn't know? How old is the groundwater seeping from the rock? What's in the air right now? And where did it come from?

Some questions are easy. The best mysteries have multiple parts that take decades to unwrap. Imagine the migration pattern of the Monarch
butterfly. Before there were electronic communications, before people could follow and before the coordinated effort, butterflies came and went from people's lives as a mystery. Sharing information, people put together what they could of Monarch migration. With concentrated effort the mystery unfolded to reveal the multiple generations required to complete the full migration circuit. What do we know about lichens, the regeneration of valley oaks or future evolution of bobcats?

I get to bring mystery to a person's awareness, and have them wrestle with it. The fifth grade comparative anatomy field trip was such an opportunity. We looked at bones to decide what species they came from and where they fit. Most the students passed bones and made remarks, all moving closer together. They started with simple nonsense, but they found they could come closer to the mark. Asking questions will focus sometimes, but handling materials --bones in this case-- and finding clues or novelty spontaneously is more effective. We all love a good mystery, especially if we think we can solve it and maybe look smart.

I try to slip things past people's resistance and distraction. Distractions are exciting peers, on the move, fear of being wrong, or fear of the threats in the environment, opportunities to amuse and then there’s resistance we all have to something so new we don’t know what to do with it. We ignore it, or put it in a category with something familiar.
Maybe it will take too much work or time to figure out, so we resist the effort. Field trips never have enough time to unravel a big mystery, but they might intrigue someone to think about it later. Maybe they will ask questions, research online, in field books or possibly go outside to find out for themselves. There is a small line between dictating what people should see and slipping something into the agenda so it is their choice to ask the question rather than me priming the pump with monotonous questions.

Yesterday it was, “Mr. Dennis, what’s that eagle doing?”

I missed the bird soaring overhead and that was the lesson right then! I love hearing they have a question. When that happens everything falls into place. We watched as I asked them to tell me the colors they saw. When the bird turned on the thermal edge it’s red tail was revealed and a mystery solved, red tail hawk.

Six kids want to climb the tree. How can I introduce mystery into that?

How big is this tree? How do we measure? What makes the tree stable? Have you seen a root system? What is the tree made of? How much of the tree is made of what you breathe out? When we share gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen with the tree does that mean part of you becomes the tree?

I use a few questions and I hope to elicit theirs before pushing them down my path.

Why is the bark pealing? How’d it get that color? Where are the ants going?

Those were their questions. The answers that come from playing the detective in the investigation stick the longest. I encourage them to look for answers here and now and to think of reasons that fit the information they can find. Leaps of intuition are sometimes required and often resisted.

"Why can't you just tell us?"

When I see boredom or passive resistance I try to have them dig deeper. If they are going to find something interesting it means learning more and figuring out how to dig the details out.  

Nature does not begin across the street or at the end of the city. We are all part of nature and we
protect our health and sanity by protecting wilderness and nature. I don’t need a bear as a prop, but I am still thinking of ways I could safely introduce one into my field trips.

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